‘Human Greed’ and the Anthropocene

We often see human greed, blamed for ecological destruction, and even the Anthropocene itself. However this is not the case. “Human greed” is not the problem. Most humans, even today, are not generating emissions, pollution and ecological problems at a suicidal rate and they are not craving the ‘untapped resources’ of the Amazon, the Indonesia rain forests, the Liverpool plains in Australia, or the poles. Most humans do not like it when their ecologies change, and frequently protest against it, as they are not the direct cause of that change. Do any of the local residents near me, for example, relish the idea of having unfiltered pollution stacks, near their homes, for the tunnels to take a highway which is to push 75,000 extra cars per day over an already blocked bridge? No, it is not their greed that is responsible. It is not the billions of Indian villager’s greed, or even the greed of the average inhabitant of Delhi, which makes the air unbreathable. The inhabitants of Tuvalu or Kiribati have not contributed to the climate change which will destroy their homes. Most people  on the planet generate small amounts of emissions.

It is a relatively few humans, acting within particular social arrangements, that cause the problem.

Gareth Bryant argues that 71% of contemporary greenhouse gas emitters in Europe are responsible for only 4% of European emissions, while 9% of emitters are responsible for 83% of those emissions. According to Richard Heede, just 90 organisations have been responsible for two thirds of greenhouse gas emissions between 1854 and 2010.

Half of these emissions have occurred since 1986 after the triumph of neoliberal corporate dominance, when people became aware of climate change, and when particular corporations began sponsoring climate change denialism for what seemed like their own political and economic advantage. They had to engineer the state we are in. It was not natural.

Realising that the cause  of our climate problems is not just ‘human greed’, but the greed and activity of particular humans, in particular social organisations, changes the possibilities for ending the problem. If the problem is human greed then there is no chance, or we must get rid of humans. If it is particular people in particular social organisations, then yes it is possible. It  is just politics, persuasion, risk and effort. It is standing up to power. It is not easy, but it is doable.

 

 

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